The Almighty Chop

Jul 15, 2020

The Almighty Chop

Like so many things in Japan, back in the early days, there were many many surprises, here and there.

One of the interesting things about Japan is that they very rarely use checks, which is something I look back upon now as relic of a far away land. 

No dear listener indeed no, one uses something much older, which carries great weight, here in Japanese and elsewhere in Asia.

I’m talking about the personal seal, or also know as a “chop”.


The personal seal is a piece of stone engraved with your family’s ideogram, or in my case the first three initials of my name.

Company chops have elaborate engraving of the company’s name, and these designs are complex and extremely difficult to duplicate.


Seals are necessary in order to do many official things here, in Japan. For example, opening a bank account, or going to the city office to do necessary things, such as registering marriages or adding you newborn child to your family register. 

It was interesting to see how these seals could be used.

Known to me personally, there is a sad, sad tale of my simple farmer neighbour, who was also my friend. He grew old and gave the rights to the farm to his only grandson. The diligent farmer not only was a farmer, but he was also a scrap metal dealer. And that is where he accumulate a handsome sum of money into the farms bank account. Now, the grandson and his father thought they should have a little of fun at the horse race track, and so they did, ¥120 million yen worth of fun. Unfortunately for my then old, now dead friend, he could not get one yen when he asked his grandson on the phone for a little living money, not much at all, as this wonderful simple farmer lived a frugal life. The grandson said “there is no more money left in the bank”. 


Therein lies the power of the seal, and I guess, that’s why the seals are, yes, sealed away in secret places, know only to the owners, and one can now see the importance of this small object.

In corporations, the workers personal seals are used, and this can some times can lead to bureaucratic quagmires here and there. 


Let’s have a look: In order to get a project to the next stage, one might have to get the personal chops of 5, 6 or even 7 people, who knows?, more… Now, if even one of owners of a necessary seal, and for some reason has not bitten off on the program, that piece of paper and the project stands-still.

As negative as this may seem at first glance, there is also the flip side. Everyone must come to a consensus, and one must cajole, or other wise persuade the resistant coworker into joining the group, so they can go into the next phase with a united front.


And in that, they all feel to have had a hand in the project, and a sense of unity and cohesiveness with their coworkers and their companies.


Accountability comes into our story as well. These”chopped” document have a record of the participants, so when reviews are necessary, look to see whose seal is on the document, there, you will know who to talk to.

Alas, the mighty chop is under grave threat in this new environment of expanding telework. Ahhh, the changing times, perhaps we will no longer need the almighty chop, as the Japanese adapt to new ways of working together. 

Personally, I look upon the seal as an object of beauty. This unique way of making transactions and putting ones special mark on the official document of one’s life in Japan, is truly unique.


Update 2021-01-14

Wandering through the mall, one happened upon the chop shop. This particular set is on sale at a 30% discount and the new price is, ready, wait for it:

¥142,740, which is:

USD $1,360

CDN $1,717

EUR €1,122

GBP £981

RUB 100,119

Very expensive hanko

Very expensive hanko